Writing an article about anger was on the bottom of my to-do list; it seems whatever I write about becomes my current struggle, and I was hesitant to invite anger into my life. However, after I read about Rabbi Nachman’s teaching that Hashem rewards us for conquering our anger by sending us an incredible yeshua, I knew I had to dig deep. By turning to the strategies of the four D’s, we can all overcome frustrations that creep up on a daily basis, opening ourselves up to blessings from Above.
Doorway Effect: While rewriting a section on anger techniques for my book, I left the room to check out a source elsewhere in my house. Walking into the other room, I lost my train of thought and forgot why I had gone in there to begin with. It turns out, this strange phenomenon is a common occurrence called the doorway effect. Numerous studies have shown that walking through a doorway causes forgetfulness, particularly when one is distracted. This is because doorways represent a boundary between two contexts. Once you leave one space for another, a disruption is created and your train of thought can be lost. Has anyone else walked into their pantry for more flour and then forgotten what they needed once they got there?
Although this experience can be annoying, we can use it to our advantage when it comes to anger. By simply walking away from a heated moment and into another room, we can “forget” what we are angry about and create a new context in a fresh space. Minimally, walking away can diffuse the intensity of a situation and give us some personal space to calm down.
Distractions as Opportunities: One of the most difficult shiurim I have ever given took place in a small apartment with a group of women – and all of their young children. The children’s whining and crying was so loud and distracting I could barely concentrate, but I continued as best I could.
A month later, I was set to give the exact same shiur during a Passover program in front of a large audience. Mid-lecture, loud noises and music began playing behind a partition in the room, as the hotel was setting up for a concert and the musicians in the adjacent room were preparing for the show.
It turns out that giving a speech with twenty-five rowdy young children as background noise was just a practice run and relatively easy compared to the musical cacophony of the hotel.
Additionally, the experience taught me a great tool to prepare for an important speech – distraction!
Now when preparing for a lecture, I will purposefully invite all forms of distraction (i.e., my children) into the room. Acclimating to all sorts of interruptions and noise levels helps me prepare to deliver any lecture with ease.
One time, my children were in particularly fine form. As my four-year-old pulled on my skirt, my son threw a ball around the room, and my daughter imitated my every move. The room was chaotic, but afterwards I thanked them for their rowdiness.
My eight-year-old asked in disbelief, “Really? You like that we acted like this?!”
“Yes!” I told her. “You are helping me become a better speaker.”
Hearing my own words triggered an internal paradigm shift.
Usually, their loud interruptions and indoor ball throwing would elicit irritation. I realized that perhaps these actions were all just a practice run to allow me to become a better parent. Anyone can be a good mom when their kids behave like angels. If the kids are out of line and you can still maintain composure, you are not just a good parent, but a great one.
Don’t Forget to Laugh: We all know the scene well. Dinnertime shenanigans were at an all-time high as my four-year-old whined loudly and my 14-year-old threw a cucumber at his sister. As the bickering mounted, so did my anger. But rather than yelling, I turned to the art of comedy instead, mimicking my daughter’s voice followed by an elegant imitation of a dinosaur sneeze. Instantaneously, the bickering morphed into laughter, as giggling took over the table and we all began enjoying the moment that could have been disastrous minutes before.
Laughter is powerful and contagious – use it to your advantage.
Double Down on Honor: Imagine you had a meeting with the Queen of England. If your child misbehaved, would you lose your cool and start yelling while the Queen looked on? And if the Queen made a comment about your parenting, would you turn towards her in frustration?
There is an inverse relationship between anger and honoring others. We would never lose it in front of someone we respect greatly. The more awe and reverence we have for someone, the less likely we will be upset in their presence.
One time Rabbi Mordechai Machlis, who welcomes hundreds of people every Shabbat meal, was hosting on Friday night. One of his guests was a man who had brought along his large dog. In an attempt to make his other guests feel more comfortable, Rabbi Machlis gently asked the man if he would keep his dog outside. The man erupted with anger, calling Rabbi Machlis a hypocrite and imbecile. Imagine the chutzpah! In his greatness, Rabbi Machlis did not react at all, and sat gracefully listening and humbly nodding. By putting the honor of others before himself, Rabbi Machlis had mastered the skill of humility and was able to keep his cool in the moment of confrontation. By internalizing this message, we can remind ourselves that everyone deserves honor, and there are times when we should forgo our own honor for the sake of controlling our inner flame.
I may not have conquered every moment of frustration, even though this article is now complete. However, I hope that by remembering the four D’s we will all be able to drop the rage, increase serenity, and open ourselves up to the beauty of a happier life.